NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.
The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.
Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was written with the 2007 season in mind, hence why it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):
- Begins Sunday of Week 11
- In effect during Weeks 11-17
- Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
- The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
- The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
- No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
- The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET.
- Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
- The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
- Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
- NFL schedules all games.
- Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
- Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5.
- In the past, three teams could appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC. I don’t know how the expansion of the Thursday Night schedule affects this, if it does. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; six teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the 49ers don’t have at least one game that can be flexed out. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 11 (November 17):
- Tentative game: Green Bay @ NY Giants
- Prospects: 3-2 v. 0-6. A surefire bet to lose its spot under normal circumstances, but the name value and the tire fire that is the NFC East could save it when you consider the competition.
- Protected games: Chiefs-Broncos (CBS) and 49ers-Saints (FOX).
- Other possible games: Browns-Bengals and Ravens-Bears are the best games available at 4-2 v. 3-3, and Browns-Bengals sorely lacks name value. Ravens-Bears is possible, but seems iffy. Chargers-Dolphins also in the mix but suffers the same problem as Browns-Bengals, only more so.
Week 12 (November 24):
- Tentative game: Denver @ New England
- Prospects: 6-0 v. 5-1 and Manning v. Brady. No force on Earth could budge this game from this spot, which is why both networks chose to leave this week unprotected. (Does the fact Cowboys-Giants wasn’t protected say more about this game, or the NFC East tire fire?
- Protected games: None.
- Other possible games: Even with no protections whatsoever, Colts-Cardinals and Bears-Rams are your best games available, unless you consider Chargers-Chiefs to be insufficiently lopsided to rule out. Yeah. This game ain’t budging.
Week 13 (December 1):
- Tentative game: NY Giants @ Washington
- Prospects: 0-6 v. 1-3. The name value and NFC East tire fire helps, but these are the worse two teams in the division.
- Protected games: Broncos-Chiefs (CBS) and Bears-Vikings (FOX).
- Other possible games: Thanksgiving weekend, paucity of good games, but color me surprised that Fox chose to protect a game involving a 1-4 Vikings team over Cardinals-Eagles (a battle of 3-3 teams but with importance in the NFC East tire fire); does it even have that much more name value? Oh wait, Adrian Peterson. Never mind. (Cowboys-Giants, and the NFC East in general, must REALLY suck for this to not be Fox’s unprotected week.) Indeed, Cardinals-Eagles is a dark horse at best; the best options are Titans-Colts, Dolphins-Jets, Rams-49ers, and Bengals-Chargers. NBC better hope the tentative improves or one of these matchups (or one not listed here) starts looking a lot better or it’ll be in big trouble.
Week 14 (December 8):
- Tentative game: Atlanta @ Green Bay
- Prospects: 1-4 v. 3-2. Doesn’t look good at first glance, but look at the alternatives and it shouldn’t be counted out for keeping its spot.
- Protected games: Colts-Bengals (CBS) and Seahawks-49ers (FOX).
- Other possible games: Browns-Patriots, Titans-Broncos, Lions-Eagles – all games involving 3-3 teams and with only half the matchup providing name value at best. Rams-Cardinals is a dark horse.
Week 15 (December 15):
- Tentative game: Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh
- Prospects: If I told you before the season that this game would pit a team with four wins after Week 6 against a team with four losses, would you have ever guessed that the Steelers would be the team with the losses?
- Protected games: Packers-Cowboys (FOX) and Patriots-Dolphins (CBS).
- Other possible games: Saints-Rams is lopsided, Bears-Browns is mediocre, and Cardinals-Titans is a matchup of 3-3 teams. Don’t see anything compelling enough for this game to give up its spot.
Week 16 (December 22):
- Tentative game: New England @ Baltimore
- Prospects: 5-1 v. 3-3; might become pretty lopsided, but even then the name value could save it and the Pats might be playing worse than their record anyway.
- Protected games: Broncos-Texans (CBS) and Cowboys-Indians (FOX).
- Other possible games: Very surprised CBS chose to protect Broncos-Texans, a game involving a team that was 2-3 and in a tailspin at the time (and lost to the Rams after that), instead of Colts-Chiefs, two teams currently with at least a share of the lead in their respective divisions and two losses between them. Perhaps CBS had its eye more on getting Pats-Ravens back. Bears-Eagles and Cardinals-Seahawks are also options.
Week 17 (December 29):
- Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9, but let’s face it, this is probably going to be an NFC East title game, which means more likely than not it’s going to be Eagles-Cowboys.